LA PLAGNE, FRANCE — VAL D'ISERE, France -- One after another, the big names in skiing -- Marc Girardelli, Guenther Mader, Paul Accola and Hubert Strolz -- fell victim to the grim Face du Bellevarde in the men's downhill combined.
That opened the way to victory for Italy's Josef Polig, a first-time Olympian who said he felt like a lottery winner.
The final victim was Strolz, just 100 yards from repeating as the gold medalist in this event.
Though he was 13th after the downhill portion on Monday, he took a big lead after the first run of the slalom yesterday.
"Then, I made a deadly mistake," he said.
Five gates from the finish of the second run, his skis slid out from under him.
He crashed to his left, missed two gates and stood in disbelief, his head down, his hands at his side.
Instead, Polig and Italian teammate Gianfranco Martin claimed the gold and silver. Switzerland's Steve Locher finished third.
"I could not believe my eyes when Strolz dropped out," Polig said. "He made me a great gift. It was like winning the lottery. I was hoping for a bronze, and I find myself with gold. I am really amazed."
The World Cup overall leader, Accola of Switzerland, was favored heavily to win the event.
About eight seconds into his first slalom run, however, he fell. He had to sidestep back up the hill to go through the gates he missed, and when he finally got to the bottom of the La Face course, he was in 28th place.
Facing an impossible task in the second run, he swept lazily through about five gates. Then, he made a big turn on the final approach, skiing across the finish line backward to whistles of derision from the crowd and then making an obscene gesture to the spectators. He finished 21st.
Only a day earlier, it seemed as if Accola would have the evento himself when Girardelli of Luxembourg, a four-time World Cup overall champion, and Mader of Austria fell in the downhill portion.
America's top hope, AJ Kitt of Rochester, N.Y., was 10th in the downhill but sustained a minor shin bruise in that race. He skipped the slalom to rest up for Sunday's super-giant slalom. If Cammy Myler can squash the 24-hour bug, she might have a chance at the United States' first Olympic luge medal.
Standing in her way, besides a recovery from the flu, are three Austrians, a German and an Italian, all of whom Myler has beaten during World Cup competitions.
Myler slid into sixth place and medal contention after the first two runs yesterday. Erica Terwillegar held seventh place. Bonny Warner had a mediocre first run and was 18th.
"Cammy has beaten all of the women in front of her before, and she's capable of doing it again. Two more runs can make a big difference in time," U.S. assistant coach Claire Sherred said. "And Erica, also. I don't want to rule Erica out. She's right behind Cammy."
Myler was suffering from stomach flu and got only about a half hour of sleep Monday night, Sherred said.
"I don't think she would even say that that was responsible for anything," Sherred said. "She's strong in her head and I think she's able to overcome any minor illness. We hope it's just the 24-hour bug."
Top seed Sweden beats Italy; Finland wins easily over Poland
A team as strong as Olympic co-favorite Sweden doesn't have much to worry about. Assistant coach Curt Lundmark managed to find a problem his opponents would love to have:
Italy didn't take enough shots at his goalie.
"Tommy Soderstrom had a very difficult game again," Lundmark said after Sweden beat Italy, 7-3, to remain undefeated. "It's very difficult for him because goalies need shots for warming up."
"I want to apologize to the coach," said Italy coach Gene Ubriaco, former Baltimore Skipjacks and Clippers coach. "We didn't get enough shots on his goalie. We'll try next time to give him more work."
Top-seeded Sweden outshot Italy, 45-13. In its first game, a 7-2 win over Poland, Sweden held a 42-9 advantage in shots on goal.
Four teams from each group advance to the medal round.
Fifth-seeded Finland, the 1988 silver medalist, breezed to its second straight easy win, scoring four goals in the first period and routing Poland, 9-1.
France's Guy poised for country's first gold
Fabrice Guy was in third place, but that might be close enough for the Frenchman to land the host country's first gold medal, when the Nordic combined event resumes today.
Although trailing Austrian Klaus Ofner and Japanese jumpinspecialist Reiichi Mikata after the jumping portion, Guy is in good shape to take control of the two-day Winter Olympics event based on his history of strong cross country performances.
Guy won four of the five Nordic events on the World Cup circuit, and he was confident he can move past Ofner and Mikata.
"I should have no trouble getting past them," Guy said. "It's a tough course that suits me. I hope the weather keeps cold. The harder the snow is, the better for me."
The top American, Joe Holland of Norwich, Vt., is in 15th place.